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26 Aug 2019
A mega-study into the causes of back pain has found no association between prolonged sitting and lower back pain.

The Deakin University findings are being described by the institution as good news for those with desk jobs.

An umbrella review was led by Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), and sifted through 41 different systematic reviews to better understand what movements or tasks are risk factors for back pain.

The findings are the result of three decades of data collection from more than one million subjects, giving the most accurate picture yet of the relationship between certain activities and back pain.

IPAN Associate Professor of Exercise and Musculoskeletal Health, Daniel Belavy, said when looking at the studies in combination, the strongest evidence his team found was actually the absence of a relationship, with no association between prolonged or occupational sitting and lower back pain.

“Despite a growing body of evidence linking sitting to other negative health effects, when it comes to back pain, sitting does not appear to be a risk factor,” Associate Professor Belavy said.

“So, while you may get muscle tightness when you sit for a long time, sitting itself doesn’t actually damage the spinal structures directly.”

But it’s not good news for all workers. Professor Belavy said heavy physical work and lifting were associated with back pain in his review, although it is still not clear that they are actually likely to cause it.

“Both of those things might sound the same, but it’s one thing to find an association and quite another thing to prove causality,” he said.

“Studies on causality are few and far between because they are harder to do. So it’s important we keep working to better understand the mechanisms behind lower back pain.

“For those under 50, back pain causes the greatest loss of productivity of all diseases in Australia, and 16 per cent of Australians will develop persistent back pain at some point in their life.”

The study has been published in the Journal of Biomechanics.


Published: 26 Aug 2019